WATERTOWN, N.Y. (WWNY) -
I already know what you’re probably thinking... Black Pumpkin! That sounds like a Halloween movie! Why are you reviewing a Halloween movie around Christmas time? Well, you’re absolutely right. Black Pumpkin, is a Halloween movie (seemingly having just missed the deadline for that Halloween release) and the truth is I’d love to write a review on a new Christmas horror film. Sadly, there’s nary a one to be seen in the endless horror backlog that keeps getting stuffed down the chimney for digital release. I didn’t really get to do a review for Halloween though, so maybe it all washes. In the meantime, let’s not get hung up on the unfortunate timing.
It was Halloween night and all through Mr. Leavitt’s house, not a creature was stirring... okay, there was definitely something stirring and it woke him from his late autumn nap. Amongst the clatter to see what was the matter, Mr. Leavitt is greeted with a black pumpkin lit on his front porch. Not being initially concerned and muttering about how he hated Halloween, he ignores it and goes back to his bottle of whiskey and TV movie. However, I think we can all guess that the dark pumpkin is the calling card for something more sinister and that Mr. Leavitt doesn’t get to settle in for a return to his nap. Not to spoil anything, but a few bodies later we hit the opening credits and fast forward a decade to begin the film in earnest.
We are introduced to the Peterson family (with a not-so-subtle nod to the original Halloween), which consists of single mom, Barbra and her three kids. The oldest, Laurie, is a presumed high school senior, followed by Elliot and their little sis, Regan. Its the day before Halloween and Elliot, is hard at work on a school project with his best friend, ‘Pork Chop’, editing video for a visual report on the superstitions and stories of ‘Diablo’s Den’. “Diablo’s Den has been the setting for pretty much every tall-tale, campfire story in Fall Creek Valley,” which is the EXACT verbage used by Elliot when his mom asks about the project. What he doesn’t say is that Diablo’s Den is seemingly home to an evil, Halloween bound spirit named, “Bloody Bobby”, that they have now unwittingly awoken with their artistic licensing (voodoo dolls nailed to trees) for the video.
Of course, just as soon as Halloween begins, “Bloody Bobby”, appears to dispatch secondary characters stupid enough to make Diablo’s Den their regular hangout. The bedlam builds throughout the holiday as the supernatural killer begins to stalk anyone who is linked to those initial victims... which inevitably circles back to the Peterson kids. It’s only later that night when the group suspects that they may be in actual danger from the esoteric spirit and are forced to “beat the clock” by surviving til midnight.
Let me begin by saying this movie is a resounding love letter to the horror genre. More specifically, horror films from the late 70′s throughout the 80′s. Black Pumpkin, openly flaunts its influences and really tries to capture the spirit of the golden age of slasher films. I actually believe most of the characters in the movie are references to many other genre characters/actors over the years. That being said, writer/director, Ryan McGonagle, kind of missed an opportunity to do something special on his own. Bloody Bobby, had the chance to be an interesting and chilling new villain in the horror world. Instead, his origins and story are never fully detailed and he just kind of pops up willy nilly with little explanation and only sometimes with the featured, Black Pumpkin (which also never has its significance and connection to the character identified). His rules are never defined and because of that, he feels a little too generic. I feel like they really missed the boat with Bobby, as the villain would have been better served in a more rigid, less humorous enterprise.
The film definitely plays for laughs, but sometimes a little too much. I don’t think, Black Pumpkin, ever finds the proper balance between its comedy and its gravity. The tone of the movie from its opening is far different than what we get throughout the feature and I feel like the scares get lost too often. There are some legit laugh out loud moments, but those moments often clash with the attempts at building tension and dread. Plus, I’m not sure if the purpose was to play towards campy in spots, but there are plenty of times where the vibe comes across as just goofy. It’s clear, McGonagle, knows comedy, but he isn’t always effective at finding the appropriate times to sprinkle it in.
The actors do a fair to midland job throughout. There are a few who stand out, but that might be more indicative of those character having a little bit more on the page. The characters themselves aren’t poorly written, but they’re also mostly just horror movie tropes that you’ve seen in countless other flicks. Speaking of things you’ve seen before, most of the ways those characters meet their demise are similarly predictable. This was a little disappointing not just because the film’s opening suggested that we might get some ingenuity in that department, but also because Bloody Bobby seemed to open up opportunities to color outside the lines with the violence. While there are a couple of fun exceptions, the kills and the special effects are kind of underwhelming.
Now listen... while it seems like the criticisms are piling up like lake effect in December, Black Pumpkin, isn’t a bad film. It’s not particularly good, but it’s certainly not awful. In fact, if you go into it with tempered expectations and are looking to burn 90 minutes while having a little fun, I’d dare say this might be in your wheelhouse. Especially if you’re a big fan of Halloween. Black Pumpkin, knows who it’s audience is and does it’s level best to entertain them. Even though I didn’t necessarily love it, it still entertained me and kept my attention. I’m giving it 2 out of 5 stars. Full disclosure... a ½ star of that is really a bonus because it’s pandering to horror nerds... and that’s what I am.
Black Pumpkin, is NOW available on Blu-Ray/DVD, plus streaming on Amazon Prime Video, Google Play, Vudu and most other digital platforms.